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Trump's deportations still don't outnumber Obama's, but immigrants believe the worst is yet to come

Lawyers and activists say the first six months of Donald Trump’s presidency suggest than an aggressive deportation machine is being put in place.
21 Jul 2017 – 02:49 PM EDT
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In deportation proceedings: Adalberto Magana-González says he doesn't blame immigration agents for doing their job. A word of advice for other undocumented immigrants: "Don't get into trouble." Crédito: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters | Univision

The first six months of President Donald Trump's government left a deep imprint on the immigrant community. But the numbers may come as a surprise: Trump deported 13 percent fewer undocumented immigrants than his predecessor Barack Obama did in the same time frame, although arrests are up some 40 percent.

But it’s not the numbers that are of most concern to foreigners, lawyers and activists. Instead, the president’s anti-immigrant rhetoric has the community on edge.

Between January 20 and the end of June (the first 162 days of government), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) deported 88,586 people and arrested 68,750 more. Among those arrested was the husband of Mrs. Digna, who waits in a Texas jail to decide whether he will be released or expelled to Honduras.

"On June 8 he went to his [immigration] appointment, as he had done the last five years. But he did not return home because he was told that he would be deported," says the woman, who requested not to use her full name.

He entered the U.S. in 2000 and was shortly thereafter issued a deportation order because he did not appear in court. But under Obama administration policy, he was not a deportation priority, explains Ezequiel Hernández, an immigration lawyer in Phoenix, Arizona.

That’s all changed now.

Policy Change

On January 25, Trump made good on his campaign promises and signed two executive orders - one related to the border wall and another to sanctuary cities - that suggested the presence of undocumented immigrants in the country was a threat to national and public security.

He also ordered an increase in arrests, an end to procedural discretion (such as in the case of Digna's husband), expanded the list of deportation priorities and instructed ICE to expedite deportations.

Trump's immigration policy "is the only constant amid the political scandals of this government," says Maribel Hastings, senior advisor at America's Voice. "While he promised to focus on criminals during his campaign, he has detained and deported parents without a criminal record," she adds.

In June, ICE deported 14,283 undocumented immigrants, the lowest number during the last nine months, according to an ICE report requested by Univision News. Another 13,914 were detained.

According to the data, since the beginning of October, ICE has deported 171,399 undocumented immigrants, or a daily average of 627 people. During the eight years of the Obama administration ICE deported a daily average of 923 people, and 43 percent had no criminal record.

"Terrifying" speech

But it’s not the numbers that are causing alarm. "It's the rhetoric of this government," says Gustavo Torres, executive director of CASA de Maryland. "The community is terrorized by hate attacks, by the way the president (Trump) has referred, and refers to, our community."

Since the campaign began in June 2015, the magnate has branded Mexicans as rapists, murderers and drug traffickers. He also promised that he would deport the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country within 18 months.

Reports of threats and harassment directed at Hispanics spiked after the election of President Trump, according to many advocacy groups. As the administration pushes tougher immigration enforcement, police around the country say undocumented immigrants are reporting fewer crimes, including sexual assaults, due to fears they might be reported to authorities and deported.

For now the deportation numbers do not confirm the threats, "but [Trump] is preparing for massive deportations," warns Torres. "Even though the numbers are similar to Obama’s, the rhetoric has increased in these six months."

"We are concerned about the warnings that TPS (Temporary Protected Status) and DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) will be canceled. And also the construction of the wall on the border with Mexico and the hiring of more immigration police. Trump is linking crime to immigration, and that is giving him political results," Torres says.

Change in attitude

For Lilia Velásquez, an associate professor of law at the University of California at San Diego, the new “attitude” being exhibited by immigration officials is another "troubling" symptom of the Trump government. Those officials play a key role when the time comes to decide whether or not to deport an immigrant.

"To some extent it is very little time (six months) to implement certain policies, but we are seeing a lot of activity to detain people. There are more judges, voluntary departures are up, DACA is being reviewed and they are opening all the cases that were closed by discretion of public prosecutor's offices,” Velasquez points out.

"All this tells us that from now on we will likely see more deportations in a short time," she adds.

This has also resulted in a greater sense of empowerment among agents to take actions not previously seen, such as procedural discretion and refusal to honor border asylum requests. “Remember there is currently a lawsuit against the Border Patrol for preventing people who qualify for [asylum] from freely doing so.”

“Lawyers do not expect that we will see more benevolence or that there is a better deal coming for immigrants."

Uncertain future

These concerns are shared by Eliseo Medina, former vice president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and director of Mi Familia Vota. "If there’s anything we have learned from this president it’s that what he says today can, and often is, different the next day."

"It seems to me that he does not have a well-formulated plan of what he wants or can do. For example, look what happened with Obamacare.The political messaging is detached from reality," he adds.

And that doesn’t just apply to the President, he says. "We also see this among other lawmakers. They say what their base wants to hear, they are not formulating a coherent and effective public policy.”

As a result, “people are living in uncertainty,” including thousands of undocumented immigrants being arrested and deported from the United States.

Government numbers

Of the 14,283 undocumented immigrants arrested by ICE in June, "70 percent of them had been convicted (had a deportation order) and 30 percent were not criminals," Matthew Bourke of ICE public affairs office tells Univision.

Bourke says that each undocumented person detained by the agency remains in an ICE detention center for an average of 54 days. He warns that as the number of arrests increases, detention times will also increase.

"The numbers don’t mean that detainees were deported from the country after an average of 54 days," the spokesperson adds. "Some may have entered an alternative detention program," including being released under a supervision order or remaining in ICE custody.

ICE also says that "detained foreigners who do not have a final deportation order but are considered a threat to public safety would remain detained during deportation proceedings, and a judge will decide their future in the country."

As for foreigners who do not pose a threat to public or national security and who have a final deportation order, Bourke says: "They may be eligible to file an appeal” through The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) of the United States Department of Justice. In cases where a foreigner illegally entered the United States after a deportation, "he or she may not be eligible to appeal his or her case. They will be analyzed on a case-by-case basis,” he says.

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